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The ugly origins of the "War on Christmas"
People have been freaking out about the "War on Christmas" for more than a century.
Welcome back to my week of newsletters about the “War on Christmas. Today’s deals with the origins of the term and concept. Tomorrow will dive a bit into the use of Christmas as a GOP wedge issue. If you support my work, please consider purchasing a paid subscription.
Back in 2019, I spent about a week researching and writing an article for Media Matters about the so-called “War on Christmas.” I wanted to somehow commemorate the 15th anniversary of Bill O’Reilly’s December 3, 2004 declaration that Christmas was “under siege,” and illustrate the destruction that’s come out of the fake annual freak-out. I wrote a piece that I was really proud of, and our great video team put together a great compilation of Fox News Christmas freak-out segments that’s worth a watch:
And while Fox News is largely responsible for the way Christmas has become a one-sided battleground in the modern sense (I think my description of O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, etc. as “cable news Don Quixotes” remains apt), it was not where this battle began.
The so-called “War on Christmas” began more than a century ago.
Remember Henry Ford? American industrialist, founder of the Ford Motor Company, etc.? He was also a gigantic antisemite. (Also, FYI, this section will involve some discussion about Ford’s antisemitism, so feel free to skip to the next header if you’re not okay with/interested in reading about that.)
In the early 1920s, Ford’s Dearborn Publishing Company released a four-volume set of essays penned by Ford and a handful of aides called The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. These essays had previously run in Ford’s The Dearborn Independent newspaper, and would go on to inspire the Nazis and their obsession with eugenics. Volume 2, chapter 36, “‘Jewish Rights’ to Put Studies Out of Schools” makes mention of Christmas with a familiar argument to those of us living in the present day (page 181):
In a sense, this was the first shot fired in the “War on Christmas” wars and a blueprint for how these arguments would play-out for the next century. At no point has Christmas or anyone’s right to celebrate it been under attack, yet this endures as a way to attack the ideal of multiculturalism… but more on that tomorrow.
Let’s look back at one of Bill O’Reilly’s 2004 “War on Christmas” segments:
All over the country, Christmas is taking flak. In Denver this past weekend, no religious floats were permitted in the holiday parade there. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the holiday tree and no Christian Christmas symbols are allowed in the public schools. Federated Department Stores, [that's] Macy's, have done away with the Christmas greeting, “Merry Christmas.”
Some have said, “You just can't find cards that say ‘Merry Christmas.’ It gets harder and harder.” I know. Kind of like trying to find products not made in China (for who's to say whether they come from laogai, the gulag?). I gave up on the China front long ago. Shameful, I know. But have you ever tried to buy an umbrella not made in China? Also, globalization has done wonders for the average Chinese, gulag or no gulag. Kind of a thorny, upsetting issue.
I gave up on the “Merry Christmas” front too, where cards are concerned. I just get a pretty card that says “Season’s Greetings” or “Whass Happenin' on the Holidays?” or whatever. Life's too short to hunt down “Merry Christmas.”
There’s little daylight between what Ford wrote a century ago in one of his eliminationist manifestos and what conservatives argue today. And this isn’t just some coincidence, either. All that’s changed has been the boogeyman being railed against.
In 1959, the John Birch Society warned that communists and the United Nations were trying to “take Christ out of Christmas.” White nationalist blog VDare began an annual “War on Christmas” contest in 2000, marking what may be the first mention of the phrase in its modern context.
There’s little new about these panics, just as there’s little new about a number of “kids these days” issues (see tomorrow’s newsletter for more on that).
(You can find PDFs of all of the articles below by clicking here)
I came across a 1947 article raging about “The Assault on Christmas”
I was able to find a panicked 1964 newspaper article proclaiming that “Christmas is Christian!”
In 1975, the John Birch Society once again used its influence to make this argument in papers around the country.
In 1978, a Tucson, Arizona newspaper warned that the ACLU (a common villain in the “War on Christmas” narrative) was trying to eliminate “Christ from Christmas,” though that certainly wasn’t part of the civil liberties organization’s agenda.
Years before he turned it into his nightly routine on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly tested the “War on Christmas” waters with a 2001 editorial.
Even President George W. Bush was deemed insufficiently Christian by the Christmas warriors because he dared to use the word “holidays” on greeting cards.
Thanks for sticking around to read the second installment in War on Christmas week. Once again, don’t miss out on the last opportunity to snag a paid subscription for 25% off (ends tomorrow):
And also, check out my wife Kayla’s shop Tiny Werewolves for some “The War on Christmas is not real” hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and more: